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Coke, Nestle and Danone’s Recycling Claims Questioned by BEUC

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has raised concerns about the accuracy of recycling claims on plastic bottles, suggesting they mislead consumers.

Coke, Nestle And Danone’s Recycling Claims Questioned

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), supported by ClientEarth and ECOS, has questioned the veracity of certain claims made by beverage companies like Coca-Cola, Danone, and Nestle regarding the recyclability of their plastic bottles. These bottles, often labeled as “100% recyclable” or “100% recycled,” are central to the debate on consumer protection and environmental responsibility, per a recent report from FoodNavigator.

BEUC has submitted an external alert to the Consumer Protection Cooperation network and the European Commission, presenting evidence of what they believe to be infringements on consumer protection law.

Alexandre Baird, Senior Legal Officer at BEUC, has stated that the claims made by these companies are not only factually questionable but also potentially misleading, as they may give consumers a false impression of sustainability.

The crux of the issue lies in the reality of recycling processes. Contrary to the closed-loop system that many envision, where a plastic bottle is continuously recycled into a new bottle, the actual lifecycle of a recycled bottle is much more limited. Often, only certain parts of the bottle, such as the body, are made from recycled plastic, and even then, the inclusion of virgin plastics during manufacturing is not uncommon. Furthermore, the ability to recycle a bottle depends on a variety of factors beyond the control of the producers, including local recycling infrastructure.

The claims of '100% recycled' or 'recyclable' are also under scrutiny for their potential role in greenwashing, a practice where companies convey a false impression of their products' environmental friendliness. BEUC argues that these claims incorrectly position recycling as a comprehensive solution to plastic pollution, ignoring the fact that recycling is merely a less harmful alternative, not a solution that renders the product environmentally neutral or positive.

The response from the industry has been one of acknowledgment and a commitment to improvement. Trade bodies such as Natural Mineral Waters Europe and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe have emphasized the beverage sector's efforts in packaging circularity and transparent communication. They recognize the need for EU-harmonized rules and regulations to enhance the effectiveness of circular packaging.

Individual companies have also responded. Danone, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola Great Britain have each outlined their commitments to reducing plastic use and investing in better recycling infrastructure. They stress the importance of clear communication with consumers and substantiating any environmental claims made on their packaging. Danone has highlighted its progress in reducing single-use and virgin plastic, while Nestlé has pointed to a reduction in virgin plastic packaging and ongoing efforts to support packaging circularity. Coca-Cola Great Britain has expressed its dedication to reducing plastic packaging and achieving ambitious recycling goals, including a significant increase in the use of refillable and returnable bottles.

As the industry navigates the complexities of environmental claims and consumer expectations, it becomes clear that transparency and substantiation are key.

The dialogue between consumer organizations, regulatory bodies, and industry players continues to shape the future of packaging and processing machinery, with a collective goal of achieving genuine sustainability in the face of global environmental challenges.

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